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It seems, as gamers, that Mario and his Mushroom Kingdom associates have been with us from the beginning. Of course, they haven’t. What’s important about Shigeru Miyamoto’s work on the Mario series is that it almost invalidated everything that came before. With some, indeed many, exceptions, most that preceded it suddenly seemed like mere experimental prodding towards something of greater importance. Perhaps i’m overstating Mario’s power but that’s, at least, how it seems on the wide open surface. Having already set the watermark high with his first outings, he would only continue that trend for the decades ahead – reinventing the platforming genre at every turn and outclassing his peers with ease.
Today, Mario is still a franchise running strong. Nintendo products, while far less dominant, are still highly popular. Mario’s games in particular remain the strongest hook towards the purchase of their consoles (along with their technical feats), and there’s certainly no sign of him going away any time soon. Super Mario Maker has even thrown down a gauntlet to the players, enticing us to keep the legacy alive with a collective creativity. While he definitely has a lot of longevity ahead, that can’t become an infinity. It’s a matter of when Mario will fade away – not if. The question is, are there already hints of him beginning to run out of steam? Is there evidence to suggest that the future may not be so kind to this icon? Are we soon to witness, slowly and in increments, the death of a legend?
Super Mario Galaxy wasn’t made that long ago, relatively, and proved that there was still much ground to cover. While his Wii U releases took things a step backwards – in my opinion – I think that my fan-imagining of Super Mario Dimension is a nice little potential idea. It could take platforming to new time and space altering heights, something that has been teased at before in other games but yet to be mastered by Mario. Alternatively, New Super Mario Bros. and 3D World were lovingly rendered diversions, bringing some fun new elements along the way, but didn’t really take any steps toward anything. The “Galaxy” games are the last time I saw Mario truly firing on all cylinders; something that had previously come all too naturally to the plump little fellow. At some point, the new niches and twists they can bring to the formula are going to run dry.
Where will this leave Mario? Obviously, he won’t disappear. He’ll probably even have new platformers released for future handhelds – always a good cop-out for a few quid. What i’m talking about with his “death”, however, is for his main series games to either change their formula of innovation entirely, or stop altogether. It’s almost doubtless that he will remain as a ubiquitous ambassador, shepherding us through Nintendo’s latest party-games and childlike sport simulators. That’s almost a given, and the death of that is all too easy to visualise – whenever Nintendo itself goes under, and that doesn’t even bare thinking about. Aside from the more frivolous, cameo-like, appearances he’ll make in mostly unrelated titles, what more can truly be done for Super Mario to retain the inspired glory it’s become synonymous with?
Personally, I worry that the answer to that is “not much”. I don’t want my Mario games to be carbon copy churn-outs, simply adding a new power-up or enemy. I demand more than that, because more than that has been the backbone of the series up until now. Indeed, do platform games themselves have much more to offer in the grand scheme? As a great proponent of the genre, and having recently played the masterpiece that is Rayman Legacy, I both believe and hope so. The reason why I worry that Mario is beginning to fall to the wayside is that it seems Nintendo has its sights a little more focused on other beasts. That’s fine. That’s understandable. As painful as it is to admit, it may even be somewhat welcome. When modern Donkey Kong Country games are better than Super Mario games, you know there’s a problem.
Will Nintendo really neglect their most beloved creation in favour of pastures new? I think that’s probably the way things will go, even if they don’t realise they’re doing it in the rush to charter new territory. Considering Mario’s latest releases, the death rattle may have already embarked on its lengthy wheeze. It would be one of the biggest shames of the medium for us to be left with stale concepts to triple-jump through with fast-dwindling glee, but it may just be inevitable. I beg for Nintendo to really push out the boat on their next main-series title. Maybe, just maybe, we can end the legend on a bang rather than a whimper. But as sad as the realisation is, we will one day have to say goodbye to the mechanics and game design that have led us to love a verbally challenged, stout Italian from Brooklyn. I say that Mario should not accept death as perpetual pointless promo tack-ons, but instead leap into it joyfully with a final and resounding, “Lets-a Go!”.